Skip to main content

Effective Techniques to Maximize Your Online Community Engagement

“We’re just not getting good engagement …”
“We’re not seeing the depth from responses anymore …”
“We’re hearing similar things from project to project …” 

Does this sound familiar? If you’ve found yourself saying one or more of these things about your online community, you’re not alone. An online community is a long-term commitment for everyone involved, and sometimes, the conversations with members may start to feel monotonous.  

The root of this problem is typically one of two things: members don’t feel valued and therefore don’t want to participate, or members get bored when the research questions and activities become repetitive.  

The Problem: Your online community lacks engagement or depth 

Many of our clients have had experiences with communities ― some DIY, some full service, and some that more closely resemble ‘panels’ with large sample and no member-to-member interaction ― and have often run into issues with getting, and keeping, the community members engaged.  

Do you have an issue with member engagement? Ask yourself these two questions: 

  • Are members contributing to the community in both incentivized and unincentivized ways?   
  • Are member contributions well thought out and creative?  

Keeping members engaged is essential to conducting research quickly and getting the in-depth answers you need to solve urgent business problems.  

Solution: Make your community members feel valued 

This is true of all qualitative market research. In order for consumers to open up and engage, there needs to be a value exchange that is greater than, “You answer questions, we give you money.” Put yourself in their shoes and think about your own experiences. Aren’t you more willing to participate in something (particularly over the long term) if you feel valued for your contributions?  

Here are a few ways to tackle this: 

  • Make them feel important: Help members build a feeling of investment in a brand by highlighting the seat you’re giving them at the table and why they got that seat. When community members recognize that their unique perspective is valued, they become more thoughtful and don’t hold back from providing the ‘hard truths, aka, the customer critiques that will improve your product or service. 
  • Show the impact: Show the members of your community how they have influenced important decisions for the brand. This impact makes members feel like their voices truly matter, which inspires them to “work hard” in every community activity we throw at them. There’s no better feeling than being able to say, “I helped with the development of that … ad, product, service.” 
  • Express gratitude: Our moderators know how to “be human.” Responding to research questions in a void doesn’t feel good. Showing gratitude by remembering members’ personal contributions or sharing encouraging feedback helps members feel their moderators truly appreciate what they have to say.  
  • Ask follow-up questions: If your respondents are giving short or incomplete responses, asking follow-up questions can help keep the conversation going and show consumers the kinds of answers you’re looking for. This helps set expectations and show the community members, who may be new to this process, the best way they can contribute. 

The Problem: You only use the community for one methodology, and it’s gone stale 

When we find a solution that works for our needs, particularly in qualitative market research, we tend to love it to death. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it …” right?   

Over time, though, these tried-and-true methodologies tend to go stale, particularly when you’re partnering with the same community members over the span of weeks or months. If you’ve seen a decline in your community participation, and you’ve made efforts to show the members they’re valued, their work is important, and they’re having real impact, then you may need to make some bigger changes. 

The solution: Introduce a variety of business problems for community members to weigh in on  

Quite simply, doing the same types of activities in a community over and over gets boring for members. It’s important to think of different ways to capture the necessary information. 

  • Alternate Methodologies: If you’ve conducted five surveys in a row that are all asking the same type of questions, consider a different approach or methodology – try a card sort, or an in-depth-interview, or even a self-guided ethnography. It will help keep members engaged, but it will also flex different muscles in their brains which may lead to stronger insights. 
  • Ask Creative Questions: If you’re stuck with a certain methodology, say a survey concept test, think of ways to ask things more creatively. If you ask the same questions in every survey, you’ll start to get the same answers from members. Projective techniques and other less direct questions not only yield deeper insights, but they also make research feel less “research-y” and more enjoyable for members. 
  • Health Checks: We run quarterly health checks on all of our communities – a quick 5-10 question survey that is aimed at understanding what our members are enjoying and what they’d like to see more. This allows us to get ahead of any drops in engagement, because we’re matching the research we need to conduct to the methodologies in which members express an interest. 

Because online communities are nimble, effective, and accessible market research tools, it can be easy to go on autopilot and assume the community will maintain itself. But like any qualitative research program, it’s important to center the needs of the respondents and foster a community that members want to return to again and again.  

The next piece in our online communities series will explore how to create alignment among internal shareholders and maximize your community’s effectiveness. If you’d like to talk more about how you can recalibrate your community, you can contact our qualitative research team. 

About the Author

Sean has over 10 years’ experience in consumer insights, strategy, and consulting. Through creative research and great storytelling, Sean focuses on empowering clients to empathize with their most important asset, their consumers. He has worked globally spanning industries like CPG, food and beverage, and tech services & products. Sean has a degree in Business at Babson College, with a double major in Branding and Economics.

Profile Photo of Sean Aurigemma